"Nick, Nick, Nick. You know I don't do chamber music. Haven't done in years. You want me to play a concerto or a solo recital at your little festival, fine, but sextet? Nope. Not going to happen."
Tony Stark, labeled one of the greatest concert pianists of his generation by critics around the world, wasn't the least bit interested in Nick Fury's suggestion. He had never been a team player, that was what people had been telling him all his life, and he'd freely admit it himself. He was no good at following others, let alone adjusting his own interpretation to reach a consensus with the other players in an ensemble.
Nick Fury had not expected this to be easy. Besides being very talented, Stark was a notoriously difficult person to handle. But as a conductor with a long and colorful career, as well as the artistic director of the Society for Creative Undertakings of Dancers and Orchestras (commonly known as SCUDO), Nick was used to dealing with challenging personalities. He wouldn't have contacted Stark without a few tricks up his sleeve.
"Stark, I'll be honest with you: we need you for this," Nick said, his good eye fixed on Stark as steadily as the purposely mismatched glass one. "I know you're not familiar with Laufeyson's work, but you know I'm not one to exaggerate, and there are few composers, living or dead, whose material is as challenging as his. We need a pianist who has plenty of experience with contemporary music and who can play stuff others would call impossible."
Tony offered Nick one of his winning smiles. "Very clever. Good strategy, I'm suitably flattered. The answer is still no. You should ask Reed Richards, he's got the reach and the flexibility for those impossible chords. Have you seen his hands? Rachmaninoff’s got nothing on him."
"He's out of the country during the festival, touring with his quartet."
"So, you've already asked him, before you asked me? Admitting that is not a good strategy. Now I'm offended."
"Note the words 'his quartet'? Unlike you, Reed doesn't categorically say no to chamber music. And yes, I've asked plenty of people before you. I've almost got the entire sextet, I only lack the pianist and the clarinetist."
"So, which sorry souls have you managed to trick into your superhero team?"
"I've got the composer's brother, Thor Odinson, on the horn – they're from Norway, and Thor is damn impressive. Big and loud, you'd like him. The viola and cello players are from SCUDO Philharmonic, Clint Barton and Natasha Romanov."
"Oh, her," Tony said. They had history – which Nick was perfectly aware of, because it was mostly due to him.
"She's the best we've got."
"That she is, I'm sure. So, who's the violinist, if not someone from your band?"
"That would be one Steven Rogers, formerly of the NY Phil."
"Rogers?" Tony repeated disbelievingly. "Isn't he supposed to be on indefinite hiatus? Frostbite to his hands, I seem to remember?"
Steve Rogers. The star pupil of the late, great Howard Stark. The wunderkind Tony's dad had adored, with whom Tony had never been able to compete. They hadn’t really known one another, had barely exchanged more than a few words, but Tony definitely knew of Steve, and had kept an eye on his career.
"Not anymore," Nick replied, quite pleased with the reaction he'd gotten from Tony. He had known Howard, and he was well aware of this particular chapter of past history as well. "He's making his comeback, with a bang. Playing the Tchaikovsky concerto with the S-Phil. This ensemble gig is just warm-up."
"Okay, I admit I wasn't expecting that."
"So, you might consider joining them after all?"
"Sure," Tony said, and made a very thoughtful face, with pursed lips and an exaggerated frown. "Okay, I've reconsidered. What do you know, the answer's still the same. I don't play well with others. I play even worse with others whose shadow I've been living in half my life. No, Nick. Very nice of you to ask, but no way in hell."
When Nick walked out of Tony's penthouse apartment a few minutes later, there was the slightest grin playing at the corners of his mouth. Although Stark had said no, Nick had seen how intrigued he'd been, and he knew Stark well enough to tell that he wouldn't need to ask anyone else. The ensemble had its pianist. Now, all he needed was a way to contact the elusive clarinetist Bruce Banner, who'd last been sighted playing in the street somewhere in India.